TV meteorologists kicked off the summer by talking about climate change

#MetsUnite and #ShowYourStripes campaign highlighted the importance of climate communication

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

The 2019 summer solstice marked the second year in a row that TV meteorologists around the globe donned colorful stripes to talk to their viewers about climate change. The #MetsUnite campaign, started last year by meteorologist and CBS contributor Jeff Berardelli, aims to unite meteorologists to educate their audiences about the climate crisis and how it's affecting weather patterns. The stripes, created by U.K. climate scientist Ed Hawkins, show that the earth has warmed significantly since 1850 by using blue stripes for cooler-than-average years and red ones for years that were hotter than average.

This year, the nonprofit group Climate Central worked with Hawkins to develop an extensive set of climate-stripes graphics tailored to different cities, states, and countries, available on a #ShowYourStripes website. Meteorologists in the U.S. and other countries incorporated the stripes into their broadcasts.

On NBC's Today show, weather anchor Al Roker used the stripes to explain how average temperatures have risen around the world and in specific U.S. states, then zeroed in on warming in the Arctic, which is happening “twice as fast as anywhere else around the world.”

In Florida, sometimes referred to as “ground zero” for global warming, at least three broadcast meteorologists devoted time to discussing warming temperatures. On NBC 6 South Florida (WTVJ), Steve MacLaughlin showed the stripes chart for his city and said, “there’s just no doubt: Our planet, and Miami, is warming exponentially.” On ABC7 Southwest Florida (WZVN), John Patrick showed the Florida stripes graphic and talked about how average summer temperatures in the region have increased nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1970. And Tallahassee’s WCTV did a strong segment highlighting rising temperatures in the state capital, which included an interview with Climate Central meteorologist Sean Sublette about the worsening effects of climate change on agriculture and diseases:

Other meteorologists around the U.S. used the stripes to show warming in their regions. In Washington, D.C., Chuck Bell of NBC4 (WRC) encouraged viewers to read the federal government’s National Climate Assessment “to learn more about our changing climate change and how we can make moves to improve our situation in the future.” Josh Marthers of WCBD News 2 talked about rising temperatures around Charleston, SC, where average summer temperatures have increased almost 2.2 F since 1970. Across the country in Fresno, CA, A.J. Fox of KSEE 24 discussed climate change’s effects on the number of large Western wildfires since 1980:

Many other meteorologists around the U.S. took to social media to show their stripes, as did people in countries from Mexico to Austria to New Zealand. Hawkins tweeted that nearly a million stripes graphics were downloaded by visitors from more than 180 countries. 

Climate Central’s Climate Matters campaign has been influential in getting meteorologists to talk more openly about climate change. More than 600 meteorologists now participate in the program, and on-air climate change reporting by weathercasters increased more than fifteenfold from 2012 to 2018. Weaving climate change into local weather forecasts is critical; broadcast meteorologists, like other local newscasters, are seen as trusted messengers in their communities. A 2018 survey by Poynter found that Americans have more trust in local TV news than in other news sources, and a recent article explained that this outlook is central to the #MetsUnite campaign:

“Increasingly, the public is convinced that the climate is changing. However, they don't always know exactly what that means for them, their family, and their community,” said Bernadette Woods Placky, who directs the broadcast meteorology program at Climate Central.

“TV meteorologists are in a unique position to help answer those questions—to connect the dots between climate change and the increase in heavy rain, more coastal flooding, challenges to our food and water systems, longer and stronger pollen seasons, and intensifying heat that takes a toll on the health of outdoor workers and results in rearranging of our kids' camp and sports schedules.”

Mass media coverage of climate change has traditionally been pretty awful -- particularly on TV. That’s why campaigns like #MetsUnite are so important: They provide climate change information in a trusted format to an underserved public. As the summer rages on in what’s projected to be the third-warmest year on record, let’s hope to see more weather broadcasts linking rising temperatures to human-caused climate change.